CALL ME DELUDED but I thought Independent candidate Dylan Haskins had at least a chance of becoming a TD in Dublin South East.
For anyone who missed him on Newsnightor the BBC World Service or Al Jazeera during the campaign, he was the fresh-faced candidate with the lovely hair and the idealistic outlook. I don’t mind admitting I bought into the whole thing, from his social media campaign to target apartment dwelling voters to his Obama-style “It Starts Here” catchphrase.
It ended last weekend when he only got four per cent of the vote. It didn’t matter that he had a cool campaign video or a three-word slogan. It didn’t matter that he held his own on Vincent Browne’s show when other more experienced candidates crumbled. It didn’t matter that older people seemed particularly to warm to him on the hustings or that on a personal level three members of my family who encountered him for the first time – he was the only politician to call at my brother’s door during the whole campaign – were impressed enough to support him.
He was probably more mocked than anyone else in Election Eleven, apart from the Healy-Raes. His biggest “crime”, according to detractors, was being an impeccably well connected, middle class candidate. But the most entertaining piece of Haskins slagging I saw was someone online saying the candidate’s posters, which stood out on the lamposts because of his youth, were like “missing child” adverts.
Haskins came in for some serious reverse ageism over the course of the campaign. When I mentioned him to colleagues they mostly said: “He looks about 12” or “He’s barely out of nappies”. Some people seem to believe that 23 is too young to be a politician. I don’t see what age has to do with it. I thought the calibre of the individual candidate was what mattered whether they were 23 or 63. Had they got a record of getting things done? Were they intelligent and compassionate? In politics for the right reasons? Those are my criteria anyway. Then again, when it comes to these matters I’m completely and utterly naive.
And I do realise I was naive to ever think he could wrestle Dublin South East from the grasp of Labour or Fine Gael, both of which had massive party resources to draw from. But I couldn’t help hoping. I liked Haskin’s back story. His Twitter name is @DIYlan because since he wrote his first letter to a politician at the age of 15 he has operated on the simple “do it yourself” principle. The politicians he wrote to asking whether, given the number of housing estates springing up around the country, more youth centres might be built, never replied. In a way, they did him a favour. It was the beginning of a realisation that if he wanted something done he’d have to find a way to do it himself.
So the teenager and his friends started holding all-ages gigs for young people in an unused parish hall, and later in his own house. They set up bands, toured the country and brought in upcoming acts from across Europe to play at their gigs. Haskins helped set up the Exchange arts centre in Dublin’s Temple Bar. He is currently the youngest person to sit on the board of directors of the Project Arts Centre. He started his own film and record company. In Roll Up Your Sleeves, the excellent documentary about the wider DIY philosophy which he wrote and directed three years ago, he talks about his desire to “make things, meet people, be creative and build community”. He managed to get 1,383 people in Dublin South East to give him their first preference. As the newswhip.ie website pointed out, he has twice that number of Facebook friends. I didn’t care about that. I was impressed by the fact that he came in ahead of both Sinn Fein and that other high profile independent candidate, Mannix Flynn. A respectable day at the count centre for someone who only entered politics five weeks ago.
I was watching Coronation Street recently and one line struck a chord in relation to Haskins and his peers. A character on the soap was trying to sell some property and the estate agent he had employed was only 22. “Why are we letting a 22-year-old sell our shops?” his wife said. “Everybody is 22 these days,” he replied. It made me laugh. It’s true that the older you get, the more alarmingly young-looking 22-year-olds there seem to be at every turn. A couple of them called to my door the other day trying to sell me the Big/Better/Brighter Switch. I bought it eventually, but what I was mostly buying into was their enthusiasm and their energy and the fact that the dynamic person in charge of their company is the grand old age of 22.
Everybody is 22 years old these days. Or 23. Some of them are sticking around and sticking their heads above the parapet. They deserve our support.
In other news . . . National Brain Awareness Week starts on Monday, highlighting the fact that 19,000 Irish people – most of them men under 30 – are affected by Acquired Brain Injury each year. See abiireland.ie